Often Parents ask about the merits of holding regular family meetings.
In my experience they bring families together in a good way, prevent future problems and create warmth in the relationships. Children can feel a sense of belonging and importance if they are included in a safe forum for solving conflicts that inevitably arise. And if there are no problems to discuss, the time can be spent discussing general issues, sharing family values, and planning and reflecting on fun stuff such as family holidays and special occasions.
However, there are some traps to avoid, and tricks to help family meetings become more effective which I have outlined below.
Setting the Stage:
Always schedule meetings for a time that suits everyone and ensure it is a time when people feel fresh and relaxed (no-problem time.)
I find the mornings are best as we are at our most relaxed and a Sunday late breakfast seems to work well too. Or if mornings are difficult due to the rush out the door to school and work, maybe finding a quiet time over the weekend would work well.
Remind your family ahead of time so they can plan their time and be prepared and do remember to reassure your children that this is a no-lose problem-solving event. (PET Session 6 & 7).
It is important to have an agenda and if you have a lot to get through, break it up into two meetings. Too many items can overwhelm children. Invite your children to add items to the agenda – especially ahead of time and if you don’t get through your agenda reschedule, don’t rush or push to get finished. Be open and inclusive by giving everyone an agenda (or use a whiteboard or other creative methods?) For younger children you can use illustrations.
Set some guidelines together that everyone agrees to – maybe this could be the agenda for the first scheduled family meeting you have. Some ideas might be to rotate who leads the meeting, how often and when they will be held, following up on last meetings to get feedback etc…
Remember to get the kids excited about the potential of meetings so they are a family event that is looked forward to and a time where everyone comes together and trust is built.
Holding Your Family Meeting:
- Keep the time-frame short, on topic and snappy to accommodate differing attention spans.
- Make meetings fun and upbeat and don’t be afraid to use humour as it creates warmth and connection.
- Start with low level problems such as how to spend some time together, what to do with old toys or what to do for Christmas, on Sunday or birthday events etc., and build up your skills and your family’s confidence slowly.
- Only discuss problems that are pertinent to the whole family.
- As you will be using Method III, you will need to record outcomes – who is to do what by when etc. (Method III, Step 5), and make a time for follow-up (Step 6.) that is visible for everyone to review – say on the fridge. During the process use lots of active listening to your children’s needs and to any resistance (even the smallest amount of pushback should be attended to).
- Make sure everyone is included – use gentle door openers to include everyone. “I’m interested in hearing from everyone, what are your thoughts…?”.
- Remember the question “What will that do for me?” for deepening and clarifying everyone’s needs… Gold!
- Know ahead of time and be very clear about what your unmet needs are.
- Use positive I-Messages throughout to show your appreciation for their cooperation and willingness to spend time helping to sort out a few family issues. “I really appreciate everyone’s input and the way we have been able to sort out these problems.”
- Remember the P.E.T. Workbook and Text have some excellent material on Method III.
When Meetings Are Getting Off Track:
- If side issues appear you can note these for attending to at another time – stay focused.
- Keep using your whole suite of I-Messages to state your needs and direct the process, remembering to keep the tone positive.
- Watch for signs or signals that your children are experiencing overwhelm or ‘meeting fatigue’ and wrap it up with an agreement to reconvene at another agreed time.
- If the whole process feels stuck and you have listened then maybe it is better to reconvene and rethink the process in order to make sure you are clear about everyone’s needs.
- Get some coaching or advice from your P.E.T. Instructor if you are stuck.
Some Traps – do not:
- Hold Family problem solving meetings when you are tired, hungry, angry or stressed – (or when the kids are!) Method III requires an environment of goodwill.
- Make them too serious or drawn-out or you may find your children will not participate freely in the future.
- Don’t use accusatory (You-Messages). This only sends a message of blame.
- Make them only to get parents’ needs met – consider everyone’s point of view.
- Use these forums to solve problems that could be solved through ‘Modifying the Environment’ or ‘Modifying Yourself’ skills…
- Use power or coercion to get kids on board or to move through Method III.
- Give-up before everyone is onboard with mutually agreed solutions that meet their needs.
- Make it too formal – this can be stressful for you and your children.
- Use bribery or threats to get your needs met.
- Use roadblocks and get preachy if you become frustrated – better to stop and regroup and learn from your mistakes than to keep beating a drum that nobody wants to hear.
- Beat yourself up if it doesn’t go well. Start another time with a smaller and lighter feeling agenda…
Holding Family Problem Solving Meetings regularly will have so many benefits for your whole family and raise trust and confidence within your relationships.
As you ‘Model’ the Method III ‘No-Lose’ family problem solving skills you will create a template of fairness and democracy that will support your children in their other relationships and sustain them throughout their adult life.
by Victorian P.E.T. Instructor